Monday, October 10, 2005

How local democracy works in China

Lu Banglie has been described as one of China's leading democracy activists. An elected village official from Hubei province, he has been active in organising peasants to insist on transparent local government and vote corrupt officials out of office.

On Saturday night, he was severely beaten, probably to death, by a government-organised mob near the village of Taishi. The Guardian's Benjamin Joffe-Walt was with Lu, and witnessed the attack:

The men outside shouted among themselves and those in uniform suddenly left. Those remaining started pushing on the car, screaming at us to get out. They pointed flashlights at us, and when the light hit Mr Lu's face, it was as if a bomb had gone off. They completely lost it. They pulled him out and bashed him to the ground, kicked him, pulverised him, stomped on his head over and over again. The beating was loud, like the crack of a wooden board, and he was unconscious within 30 seconds.

They continued for 10 minutes. The body of this skinny little man turned to putty between the kicking legs of the rancorous men. This was not about teaching a man a lesson, about scaring me, about preventing access to the village; this was about vengeance - retribution for teaching villagers their legal rights, for agitating, for daring to hide.

They slowed down but never stopped. He lay there - his eye out of its socket, his tongue cut, a stream of blood dropping from his mouth, his body limp, twisted. The ligaments in his neck were broken, so his head lay sideways as if connected to the rest of his body by a rubber band.

We were probably in the car another five to eight minutes. The front windows were open and various men were reaching in to unlock my door. I held my hand tight to the lock. They punched me, twisted my wrist, tried everything possible with a quick grab to get me out. But I wouldn't let go, and I defended myself while watching Mr Lu get beaten through the window.

Eventually, my translator got out. I followed. They opened my pen, searched my pockets, underwear and socks, asked my translator if his watch could record anything. They asked what we were doing in Taishi. They found my Chinese press pass. "You foreigners you are ruining Taishi," they screamed. "You write write write so much about what's happened here that all these businesses have fled the new industrial zone."

My head was spinning. I was in a mixed state of shock at what had happened to Mr Lu and utter fear for my life.

I shamelessly begged. I prayed. I offered them money. I tried to smile at them. Random people came up to Mr Lu and kicked him in the head, clearing their nose of snot on his body, spitting on him, peeing on him, showing off for each other. I had no idea what to do.

Eventually, Joffe-Walt was detained by police and interrogated by party officials - including the leader of the mob. Lu Banglie was taken away in an ambulance, and according to police had been released from hospital and was "fine". But no hospital has reported admitting him, and he has not been seen since. He is, in all likelihood dead.


I feel sick. I mean, 'fine.'

Here's my asiapundit post, tagged in the 'riotwatch' files.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/10/2005 05:11:00 PM

Lucky you guys have those wolverine like regenerative powers otherwise one might think the government had incited a mob to murder.

Posted by Genius : 10/10/2005 06:32:00 PM

That is so wrong. I bet you $10 that it doesn't affect our (or any other Western countries') trade policy with China though.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/10/2005 06:53:00 PM

I can just see Cheney and his cronies hearing about this one, "Soon Rummy, soon we'll be able to operate like this and get some real work done."

Posted by Anonymous : 10/10/2005 09:34:00 PM

For some background on Taishi see my post on my blog

More comment in the Taishi thread in the New International Times which by the way very much wants some direct input from New Zealand on world matters.

Posted by Edis : 10/10/2005 10:54:00 PM

For some background on Taishi see my post in my blog from a few days ago


Posted by Edis : 10/10/2005 10:57:00 PM

The Sydney Morning Herald has a story today which says he's still alive.

Reading that Guardian story does make you wonder if the Greens are right trade policy-wise though don't it?

Posted by bennyasena : 10/11/2005 09:06:00 AM


I agree (I think) that it ain't as simple as engage vs disengage.

However, one way that enagement via trade can help lead to progressive change is the leverage it gives us (i.e. we'll only keep trading with you if you stop beating to death democracy activists).

Is this on the cards?

I doubt it - and, depressingly, this is because trade policies are motiviated by self-interest...

Posted by Anonymous : 10/11/2005 09:08:00 AM

Icehawk, a good chunk of those calling themselves communists throughout history have been hypocrites. China is not communist. China is what Bush & his cronies wishes America was, the worst of both worlds (the PRC has considerably privatised its economy in the past three decades but retains significant centralisd control of the economy). As is often the case, and as Ben mentioned, this repression has at its heart my favourite of authoritarian institutions, capitalism:

What I can tell you is that what's going on in Taishi is perhaps the most significant grassroots social movement China has seen since the Cultural Revolution, a rural revolt against corruption, against deterioration of healthcare, against the illegal sale of farmland, and broadly against urban capitalism that has reaped no benefits for these farmers.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/11/2005 09:18:00 AM